Free Agent Shopping Spree Continues As Red Sox Reach Accord with Beltre

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IJanuary 5, 2010

CHICAGO - APRIL 29:  Adrian Beltre #29 of the Seattle Mariners plays third base against the Chicago White Sox during the game on April 29, 2009 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

According to multiple published reports, including an mlb.com report published on the team’s website, the Red Sox have reached a tentative agreement with third baseman Adrian Beltre on a one-year, $9 million contract.

The deal will contain a player-option for 2011 valued at just $5 million and will be finalized once Beltre passes a team physical.

Beltre, who is coming off a five-year, $64 million contract with the Seattle Mariners, is represented by uber-agent Scott Boras. According to FOXSports.com writer Ken Rosenthal, he was looking for a four-year deal worth at least $40 million; but, none of the teams that were interested in him demonstrated a willingness to go more than one year—largely because of the shoulder problem(s) he suffered from during the ‘09 season.

Beltre, who is considered a defensive stalwart a third base, struggled mightily in the batter’s box this season, hitting only .265, with 8 HR and 44 RBI after averaging 25 HR and 88 RBI during the previous three seasons. His offensive downturn has been widely attributed to the shoulder woes, thus the unwillingness of team’s to commit to a multi-year deal.

The Red Sox had demonstrated an interest in Beltre from the outset of the free agent signing period, but Boras’ demands caused the club to proceed deliberately. Several other teams were "in on" Beltre in addition to the Sox, including the Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s, who pulled their offer off the table earlier today when they learned the Sox offer was upwards of eight-figures.

So it would seem that Beltre was left to choose the best one-year deal on the table — from a bunch of also-rans or from a championship contender.

It seems quite possible the $5 million option for 2011 sealed the deal on Beltre’s contract.

If, in fact, his shoulder woes prove troublesome and require surgery at the end of the season, then he will have the security of a $5 million pay day for next year…whereas, if the shoulder is fine, he will be able to enter free agency again next winter (potentially with an improved 2010 season under his belt that will enable him to secure the sought-after, multi-year deal).

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From the team’s perspective, the commitment for the extra $5 million ensures they get the guy they want in the short run. If he is healthy, they know he will likely put up decent numbers and become a free agent next winter (meaning they pay nothing).

If he isn’t healthy then they may end up on the hook for the $5 million, but it won’t be until 2011 (when several big-money contracts will come off the books, providing some flexibility under the salary cap).

Assuming they are currently $3 million (+/-) under the salary cap, and that they can unload $3-$4 million of Mike Lowell's contract, Beltre's contract puts the ballclub over the cap by $3 million—meaning the team will pay a small CBT (competitive balance tax).

But when you are paying millions of dollars in salaries to players who are not on your team (Lugo, Lowell?), then a $700K CBT invoice is little more than a nuisance.

Beltre has a career .270 batting average, with 250 HR and 906 RBI.

So what does the Beltre signing mean for the Red Sox infield?

Well, one thing seems certain: Casey Kotchman will be relegated to a reserve roll unless someone is injured (and with Beltre’s shoulder injury anything is possible).

It would also appear the signing makes Lowell’s departure a foregone conclusion, unless his thumb is not sufficiently healed to enable him to perform—and prove himself healthy—during spring training (with the surgery completed and successful, Lowell is expected to be ready by the beginning of spring training, or soon thereafter).

What’s next for Theo and Company?

V-Mart…and a reliever.

The everyday lineup and rotation are complete. While the Sox may not be able to put up as many runs as the New York Yankees, they will rely on pitching and defense to get them into the post-season…with the potential to acquire Adrian Gonzalez during the 2010 season.

The Red Sox lineup is as good as any in the AL, with the notable exception of the Bronx Bombers, and the starting rotation—from top to bottom—is almost certainly the best in baseball.

The front office has managed to do this while keeping the organization’s long-term salary commitments under control—so they will have considerable financial flexibility next season when a bevy of premier free agents hit the open market (including LF Carl Crawford and C Joe Mauer, not to mention SS Derek Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera).

As of today, the Red Sox payroll will be freed of a significant number of large obligations, including Beltre, Lowell, Josh Beckett, Victor Martinez, and David Ortiz.

Therefore, I believe it would be appropriate for the club to explore extending Victor Martinez, with the knowledge they can leave him behind the plate should they acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego, or put him at first base and move Kevin Youkilis across the diamond if they choose to sign Joe Mauer next winter.

The only area of the team that still needs attention as the winter winds down is in the bullpen, where the club needs to replace both Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner. The addition of Boof Bonser addresses one of vacancies, now the front office must address the other one.

If Theo & Company are looking for a lefty (to replace Wagner) if would seem logical they would look to sign either Joe Beimel, Will Ohman, or Scott Schoenweiss; otherwise, the call might go to right-hander Kiko Calero (2-2, 1.95 ERA, 1.100 WHIP, 60 IP, 69 K with Florida last season).

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